Ulster 20-13 La Rochelle: Ulster battle to top of Champions Cup Pool 1
Last Updated: 14/01/18 11:34am
Ulster kept their Champions Cup dream alive with a hard-fought 20-13 win over La Rochelle at the Kingspan Stadium.
Tries from Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale had the hosts ahead at the break and Nick Timoney added a third try in the second half to secure victory.
Scrum-half Alexi Bales scored all of La Rochelle's points, with a converted try and two penalties.
La Rochelle dominated the opening quarter with some big carriers, impressive running lines and an offloading game that had the Ulster defence severely rattled. However they only had two Bales penalties to show for their efforts before the tide turned Ulster's way.
Paul Jordaan saw yellow after he made contact with Charles Piutau in the air and Ulster took full advantage. Christian Lealiifano - playing his final home game for Ulster - put a penalty into the corner, the lineout was secured and Best got on the back of an irresistible maul to score on 28 minutes.
John Cooney missed the conversion, leaving Ulster trailing by a point, which was how it stayed until Jordaan's return.
Ulster got their noses in front five minutes before half-time. After some good approach work from their pack, the ball was thrown wide, with Louis Ludik's scoop allowing Stockdale to pick up and charge over in the right corner after swatting aside three defenders.
Cooney again failed to add the extras following the Ireland winger's score, but the home side took their 10-6 advantage into the interval.
The game erupted into life with two tries in three minutes - one for each team - early in the second period.
First, Bales scored near the posts after Victor Vito's break had carved Ulster open to take the visitors back into the lead, with the scrum-half's conversion of his own try making it 13-10 to La Rochelle.
But Ulster immediately hit back when replacement Darren Cave latched onto a spilled ball in La Rochelle's 22 to put Timoney in space and the No 8 did well to drive over after 45 minutes.
Cooney's conversion put Ulster 17-13 up and that became 20-13 when the scrum-half added a 49th-minute penalty.
The remainder of the game was mostly dominated by Ulster, but neither side managed any further scores.
Ulster can finish as pool winners if they triumph with a bonus point at Wasps in next weekend's final round of games.
But their failure to gain a maximum-point triumph, along with the French team managing a vital losing bonus point, means La Rochelle remain in the mix ahead of their home game against Harlequins.